Joseph McQuiggan, far right, at Nettlesworth Colliery, County Durham in 1965. Image Credit: Photograph by John Bulmer
I was 15 when I began mining. I had my heart set on it, and left school on the Friday and started on the Monday. I began with screen work, separating the stones from the coal.
Before long, I’d been trained to go underground. It wasn’t claustrophobic – even when you’re working a seam that’s only 18 inches high. Typically, I’d work at the face, up against the rock, chiselling the coal out.
We’d go down clean and come back up covered in coal. Every 18 months, you got a chest x-ray to make sure you had no dust on your lungs. I was OK; I always wore a mask at the coalface.
When this photo was taken, I was around 23 years old; I’m on the far right, looking cheeky. I remember the photographer, John Bulmer – he was a young man, a lot like us. He’d say: “Forget I’m here, get on with your normal day,” and we did.
We’d go to the stables with the ponies from the pit and wash them down with a hosepipe, put them in their stalls and make sure they were fed and brushed; all the while, John was snapping away.
They are the most intelligent animals in the world – just marvellous to work with. The ponies helped carry the coal out to a landing point above ground.
I had a little one called Anchor. He was small and white. He led me a dance for about a month, but I persevered, and by the end, he’d do anything for me.
He was that good, sometimes I’d give him my sandwiches. I’d give him both of them and go without lunch, because he was earning the money for me.